Tag Archives: Vengeance

CAPSULE: A WOUNDED FAWN (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Travis Stevens

FEATURING: Josh Ruben, Sarah Lind, Malin Barr

PLOT: A schizophrenic serial killer takes a date to his remote cabin, but things don’t quite go as he plans.

Still from A Wounded Fawn (2022)

COMMENTS: Despite some classical allusions (to the Erinyes, who are described in the opening in as much detail as is necessary), A Wounded Fawn begins its life looking like it will be a relatively straightforward thriller. In the prologue we see killer Bruce dispatch a victim and meet the Red Owl, the hallucinatory entity who prompts him to murder against his will. We then fast forward to meet protagonist Meredith, who has unwisely swiped right on Bruce, and after a dinner of tacos has even more unwisely agreed to an overnight date at his remote cabin. When she gets there, she seems to be hallucinating, too, as we encounter mysterious bumps and shadowy figures (disruptions which only intensify after she plays a vinyl single impishly titled “LSD.”) But at almost exactly the halfway point, a movie that looks like it’s about to become a cat-and-mouse game between predator and prey undergoes an unexpected detour into the utterly surreal.

When this horror movie promotes itself as “surreal,” it doesn’t use the term in the usual “we’re going to show you some WTF stuff, man” sense. Travis Steven’s imagery was explicitly modeled on the work of two modern Surrealist painters: Dorothea Tanning and Leonara Carrington (who also supplies the film’s epigraph). The Red Owl is strange enough, but other entities soon appear: a nude woman attached to a moving stovepipe, a cartoonish blood-red cross between Cthulu and a beetle with google eyes, a woman in a red-lipped volto mask with long auburn ringlets with snakes crawling across her head. Rarely has the spectacle of a man battling his inner demons been depicted so literally.

Bruce is an unusual case: a character who is simultaneously a charming sociopath and a functional schizophrenic. It’s a difficult tightrope that Ruben walks admirably, eliciting about as much sympathy as we can expect to feel for such a monster. Although most have interpreted the film as a feminist allegory about abusive partners (which is almost certainly the intention), there remains an open question as to whether Bruce’s homicidal tendencies are a result of an irresistible compulsion, or whether that’s just a convenient excuse for him to give in to his depraved fantasies. Of course, from the perspective of his victims, the question of free will is moot. The entire final act of the film is an extensive psychoanalysis where Bruce’s brain is literally picked. Be sure to stay tuned for the end credits, which are as unforgettably odd and audacious as any I’ve ever seen. If you like your horror on the surreal side, A Wounded Fawn is sure to scratch your festering itch.

A Wounded Fawn debuts exclusively on Shudder starting today (Dec. 5). Normally, Shudder exclusives will show up at other outlets after a few months; we’ll be sure to update you when that happens.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This movie came to get weird, tell you men aren’t that great, and send you back into the world an even stranger person.”–Sharai Bohannon, Dread Central (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: PYSCHO GOTHIC LOLITA (2010)

Gothic & Lolita Psycho

Gosurori shokeinin

ゴスロリ処刑人

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DIRECTED BY: Gô Ohara

FEATURING: Rina Akiyama, Yûrei Yanagi, Misaki Momose, Ruito Aoyagi

PLOT: After the brutal murder of her mother, Yuki exacts revenge on the killers using a variety of deadly umbrellas.

COMMENTS: This movie was pretty stupid. Too stupid, alas, to nominate as Apocryphally Weird. But not too stupid (or, I suppose, stupid enough) to warrant my time. Having cut his teeth on the genre with Geisha Assassin, Gô Ohara leans into his strengths as a spinner of blood-spurty dreams with Psycho Gothic Lolita, an over-the-top vengeance tale of a young woman assassinating a series of criminals. (His third feature, An Assassin, forgoes any flowery title in favor of getting to the crux of what this guy seems to be about.) Blood spouts from severed limbs and heads; bad line deliveries spout from heads, too—sometimes even after they’ve been severed.

Yuki is on a rampage. On her birthday, she witnessed the gory and oddly ceremonial murder of her mother and the crippling of her father. Her father becomes wheelchair-bound; he also becomes (or, perhaps, was already) some sort of Christian priest. This covenant with piety and forgiveness does not stop him from putting together all manner of umbrellae for his daughter to employ in her crusade against the five nasties who did her mother in. Also, she trades her virginal-white, prim attire for an aesthetic of black lace and leather Victorian bondage gear.

Anyhow, Psycho Gothic Lolita. Er… Gothic & Psycho Lolita… Whatever this is, it’s strangely entertaining. Yuki’s battle with the second target involves levitation and a martial-arts mop. Right on the heels of that chuckle-fest, she picks a random fight with a gang beating up some beleaguered salaryman. How do we know they are beating him up? First, we see that they are doing so; and then we hear one of the goons threaten, “We’ll beat you up!”—twice. They are… very much beating him up. She throws a pair of bike handlebars to the ground near the fray, prompting one to turn and lament “My bike! That was expensive!”—twice. I briefly wondered if she was making a foray into vigilantism, but no: the salaryman was one of the Five, a safe-cracker hired to open the door to Yuki’s home. It’s after she dispatches (very non-compassionately) this rather apologetic lock-pick that she first encounters Elle. Ahhh, to be young, psychotic, and in love with firearms. Elle shoots appallingly badly, but revels in the joy of firing her bladed, twin-barreled twin guns.

Gô Ohara finishes in style with an ending that not only suggests that Yuki’s mom may have had it coming, but also that there may be more adventures for Yuki—especially now that she has discovered the full extent of her powers. A tip of the hat must be given to Ruito Aoyagi; not only for the longest villainous-laugh endurance test I’ve ever seen, but for playing a character dubbed “Viscous Man.” Let me assure you: he’s got a looooong reach with his electro-fist. When I reached the end of the film, I could not quite believe it; having now reached the end of the review, I still don’t.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The repulsive noodle-slurping has no real connection to the story’s plot. It’s a random touch, which feels more like a surreal art film flourish than like a genre exploitation trope. But that’s the reason to love genre exploitation crap... Freed from the tyranny of coherent plot or character construction, a lowest common denominator gore fest is committed to nothing but the next spectacularly vile gimmick.”–Noah Berlatsky, Splice Today

(This movie was nominated for review by Martin Canine. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TOKYO FIST (1995)

東京フィスト

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DIRECTED BY: Shinya Tsukamoto

FEATURING: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kahori Fujii, Kôji Tsukamoto

PLOT: Tsuda Yoshiharu is a mild-mannered salaryman whose engagement winds up on the rocks after an old high school friend suddenly reappears in his life.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Tsukamoto’s take on the boxing melodrama is, for the most part, “only” as strange as one might expect from the auteur of body-mechanics. However, the explosive triple-climax of sports violence, body horror, and metallo-spiritual fervor wrenches Tokyo Fist from the realm of the merely eccentric and slams it squarely into the pulsing weird sensors of the viewer’s brainpan.

COMMENTS: With its jerky camera work and dissonant soundscape, Tetsuo: the Iron Man would seem like lightning captured in a bottle—a one-time occurrence. Heaven knows its spiritual sequel never quite managed to capture the frenetic discomfort of Tsukamoto’s paean to corporeal mechanization. Perhaps it was filming in color, perhaps it was the attempt to graft an actual story on to the madness—whatever it was, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer feels like a softer cousin of the original man of iron. In Tokyo Fist, Tuskamoto reclaims that lightning he captured that first time around, somehow harnessing its electricity to transform a simple tale of romantic betrayal and depression into a jolting and exhausting treatise on violence and revenge.

Tsuda Yoshiharu (Shinya Tsukamoto) represents any black-tied, white-shirted salaryman in greater Tokyo. He sells insurance packages. He apologizes obsequiously. And he’s constantly worn out and perspiring. It’s been so long since he’s had sex with his fiancée Hizuru (Kahoro Fujii) that neither can remember when they last thus exerted themselves. A colleague browbeats him into passing along a “gift” of cash to professional boxer Kojima (Kôji Tsukamoto, Shinya’s real-life brother). As fate would have it, Kojima is an old high school buddy of Tsuda’s. It’s no happy reunion, though, when the boxer starts showing up uninvited, and seduces the good salaryman’s lady.

So what happens next? Tsuda joins the boxing club that Kojima belongs to—pursuing a more traditional variety of “body alteration” than in Tetsuo—and things get violent. This is all to be expected in a boxing/romance/revenge/redemption movie. However, each of those four genre flag-posts is subverted here. Starting with redemption: Tsuda’s quest to buff up and out box his rival turns into something on the spiritual side of suicidal. His revenge becomes moot when Hizuru shows strange signs of her own personal change: what begins with a tattoo escalates to the self-installation of increasingly large piercings in increasingly deep chunks of her flesh. The romance between Tsuda and Hizuru seems almost non-existent, just a cutesy momentum that is instantly derailed by the intrusion of the (occasionally feral) Kojima.

And then there’s the boxing. It’s worth mentioning the “reality” of Tokyo Fist and how it’s captured before elaborating. At the start, everything’s traditionally lit: the “salaryman introduction” drives home a hyper-normality. Increasingly, though, Tsukamoto takes his lighting cues from silent films. Nighttime is always a lush blue tone; the daytime becomes harsh. Eventually the only realism appears during boxing matches. And as expected, Tsukamoto doesn’t shy away from jarring sound. There’s always the risk of an earful of grinding rivets to ruin one’s complacency as the training room montages begin writhing staccato-style on top of each other. Slam editing, slam sound, slamming faces, slamming flesh, culminating in a mystical blood spout finale. This ain’t no Rocky.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This is a film about sex and violence, and viewed as such it approaches the level of a masterpiece, albeit a distinctly surreal one.”–Marv Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE MACHINE GIRL (2008)

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Kataude Mashin Gâru

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Minase Yashiro, , Honoka, Nobuhiro Nishihara,  Kentaro Shimazu

PLOT: Yakuza kill a schoolgirl’s brother and lop off her arm, but a friendly mechanic affixes a Gatling gun to her stump and she goes on a bloodbath of revenge.

Still from The Machine Girl (2008)

COMMENTS: The term “,” as used on this site, refers to a subgenre of Japanese horror movies, beginning with Meatball Machine in 2005, that were equally influenced by the mechanical body horror of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the over-the-top comic violence of The Gore Gore Girls-era . Few movies could be more exemplary of this mix than ‘s junkyard bloodletter about a schoolgirl with a machine-gun arm hunting down the brutal ninja-yakuza gang that killed her brother.

The plot is vengeance-standard boilerplate; the movie really only cares about its gore set pieces (to an extent, it also cares about its action set pieces, but mainly because they set up big gory finishes). Iguchi is nothing if not creative in coming up with new ways to mutilate the human body: Machine Girl gives you finger sushi, a tempura arm, people halved from head to crotch, a pair of guys who swap half their faces, and for a finale, a sadistic yakuza matron who warns Machine Girl, “I’m wearing a special bra…”

Even in service of the absurd, the practical effects here are good to excellent; the blood spurts may be watery and improbably voluminous, but the prosthetic heads and other body parts can be surprisingly realistic. The computer aided effects, on the other hand, are deployed too casually: the use of green screen is sometimes obvious, some effects look pixelated, and the bullet flashes are overdone and silly-looking. There are also frequent blood spatters on the camera lens, which is a fourth-wall-breaking pet peeve of mine.

It’s noteworthy that most of the main characters—both heroes and the final boss—are females who drive the action and triumph over the males. (All those schoolgirl upskirt fetish shots take away from the feminist vibe a bit, though). The three main actresses all do well, considering the low bar. In her film debut, gravure idol Minase Yashiro shows decent athleticism that makes her a plausible action lead. Honoka, an actress with mostly adult credits, has wicked fun playing a bad girl who keeps her bra on for a change. Most impressive of all is Asami, previously known mostly for her pink films, who, when not kicking ninja ass, forgets that she’s in a trashy B-movie and gives her emotional all grieving for her slain son (who must be about eight years younger than her). The extra effort is appreciated. The one knock against the two heroines is that they enjoy torturing a captured thug way too much, surrendering their moral authority. (This may seem like a stupid complaint in a movie about a girl with a machine gun arm, but it’s still a narrative slip-up, since Machine Girl had previously been depicted as a righteous avenger).

The makeup and effects here were done by , who appears in the promotional material on almost equal billing with Iguchi. He would go on to surpass Iguchi as a director, and in fact has proven the most talented of all the directors associated with Japan’s splatterpunks.

This review is based on Tokyo Shock’s two-disc “The Machine Girl: Jacked! The Definitive Decade One Deluxe Edition.” The title makes it sound like an impressive release, until you realize it’s a DVD-on-demand1, and the sometimes fuzzy presentation is nothing like a remastered print. This edition also fails to include the spin-off short “Shyness Machine Girl,” which had been included in previous releases; its absence makes it hard to call this a truly “definitive” release. What the set does deliver are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one running ten minutes and the other twenty (with some of the footage overlapping between the two); a twelve minute segment devoted to the effects; action scene rehearsals; an older group interview (in which Nishimura discusses his then yet-to-be-released Tokyo Gore Police); and several often amusing sets of footage from screenings and Q&As with cast and crew (including one where Iguchi and Nishimura introduce the film together wearing sumo loincloths). Altogether, the supplements run almost as long as the movie itself. The release also sports an English dubbed track. Altogether, it’s an heavily hyped package that promises more than it delivers—much like the movie itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The story is absolutely ridiculous, of course… There’s always some bit of extra craziness going on in the corners…”–Jay Seaver, Efilm Critic (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: SNOWFLAKE (2017)

Schneeflöckchen

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adolfo J. Kolmerer

FEATURING: Reza Brojerdi, Erkan Acar, Xenia Assenza, David Masterson, Judith Hoersch, Alexander Schubert, David Gant

PLOT: In near-future Berlin, Javid and Tan find their fate preordained by a dentist’s ever-changing movie script as they pursue vengeance for their family’s deaths while in turn being pursued by hit men hired by the daughter of two bystanders they murdered while on their quest.

Still from Snowflake (2017)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Imagine, if you will, the cross-section where Delirious and Fight Club meet Adaptation as an action-revenge-comedy littered with comic book energy and political commentary presented through the lens of a German director of commercials. Snowflake definitely has the chops to join its 358 other pals, even if we’re forced to pass it over for the official 366-count tally.

COMMENTS: I admittedly “like to like” movies; however, I generally don’t like gushing about much of anything. That said, I beg your forgiveness if I fall into hagiographical tones over the next few paragraphs, as I have not been this much blown away by a movie for quite some time. Adolfo Kolmerer’s feature debut, Snowflake, not only defies succinct description (other than strings of superlatives), it would perhaps defy logic if it weren’t so expertly crafted by the screenwriter and so deftly presented by the director.

Snowflake‘s story concerns a series of interlocking revenge-focused stories. Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar) are two long-time friends whose families died during a fire, possibly lit on purpose by xenophobic forces in a close-to-now, chaotic Berlin. Eliana (Xenia Assenza) seeks vengeance on these men for having murdered her parents in a kebab restaurant. Eliana’s bodyguard Carson (David Masterson) reluctantly agrees to introduce her to his estranged father (David Gant), who had been locked away for his homicidal-messianic tendencies, to help line up a string of unhinged murderers. Javid and Tan’s troubles are compounded when they discover that all their actions—indeed, everyone’s—seem to be determined by a dentist (Alexander Schubert) who dabbles in screenwriting. Hovering in the background is a vigilante superhero, a guardian angel nightclub singer, and a rather nasty bunch of neo-fascists aiming to stage a comeback.

Snowflake definitely has its own “feel”, while at the same time it tips its hat to its predecessors. , obviously; he seems to be credited now with influencing all manner of roaming-narrative crime movies. , too; the dentist-cum-puppet-master not only directs the action from his laptop, but in several sticky situations finds that his characters have tracked him down to make demands. (This leads to a number of the film’s funny moments, such as when Tan demands of him, “Think of us as the producers and you as the screenwriter. We give you an idea, and you have to make it work, no matter how stupid it is.”) Snowflake‘s political tones unfold slowly, beginning with some seemingly incongruous footage of an interview with an ex-police commissioner expounding on his nationalist ideas, and ending with the discovery of a hidden training facility for just-about-Nazi super-soldiers.

Ultimately, Snowflake stands as its own movie. Using a bold style while slavishly following scripted narrative logic, Kolmerer continued to amaze me at every twist and turn. I was so engrossed during the on-screen action in one scene that I had actually totally forgotten the “artificiality” of the whole narrative construct. By the film’s end I was left with a pleasantly extreme feeling of frisson, and perhaps even a shortness of breath. In order to keep myself brief, there are countless things I haven’t been able to touch upon. But I ask you to take my word for it that Snowflake is as beautiful and unique as its namesake, as well as a damn sight more hilarious than a crystal of frozen water.

Snowflake releases on DVD and Blu-ray on Dec. 4. We’ll update you when it’s out.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a dizzying, hilarious film that combines post-Tarantino action/crime drama and Charlie Kaufman’s metafictional surrealism with exhilarating results.”–Jason Coffman, Daily Grindhouse (festival screening)

358. MANDY (2018)

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall … and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, , Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré

PLOT: A cult is passing through the forested countryside in 1980s Pacific Northwest where Red Miller, a lumberjack, lives peaceably with his love, Mandy. When she catches the cult leader’s eye, dark beings descend upon her and Red, robbing Mandy of her life and Red of his sanity. Red mercilessly exacts vengeance upon all who wronged him.

Still from Mandy (2018)

BACKGROUND:

  • Mandy is Panos Cosmatos’ second feature film, and his second film to be Certified Weird. So far, all of his movies have been set in 1983.
  • Cosmatos originally wanted Nicolas Cage to play Jeremiah Sand, but Cage preferred the role of Red. Co-producer smoothed things out and got the two to work out their disagreements, resulting in Cage playing the protagonist.
  • The character of Jeremiah Sand was based on cult-leader Charles Manson, another failed musician and acid head. Linus Roache, shortly before being cast as Jeremiah Sand, had dropped out of a cult after its leader had a meltdown.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mandy provides a full menu for this indeed—even if you winnow your options down to just Nicolas Cage looking crazy-go-nuts. However, the choice becomes clear upon reflection of whom this movie is actually about: Mandy and Jeremiah Sand. Mid-acid-trip-speech, Jeremiah’s and Mandy’s faces fade in and out of each other, capturing both of their haunting visages in continuous oscillation between the poles of Mandy’s mystical innocence and Jeremiah’s mystical evil.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Demonic apocalypse bikers; The Cheddar Goblin; Heavy Metal death axe

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Described by the director himself as “melancholic and barbaric”, Mandy plays like a Romantic era poem that collides violently with one helluva nightmare. Mandy‘s signposts of color saturation guide the eye along the paths of love, wrong, and vengeance while the dirgy soundtrack cues the ear like a Greek Chorus. Mandy is almost a movie to be felt more than watched. And even putting aside all the artistry, a cursory look at its basic ingredients screams “weird” as forcefully as Red screams “You ripped my shirt!”

Original trailer for Mandy

COMMENTSMandy, in perhaps its only convergence with convention, follows the three-act structure to a “T”, going so far as to designate each act with a title card. The opening, “the Shadow Continue reading 358. MANDY (2018)

LIST CANDIDATE: MANDY (2018)

Mandy has been Certified as one of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Comments are closed on this post. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BYPanos Cosmatos

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache,
Bill Duke

PLOT: Red Miller is a lumberjack, but when a gang of cultists murder his girl, he’s not okay.

Still from Mandy (2018)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Oh-ho, there are lots of reasons. The first one that springs to mind is that it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that requires Nicolas Cage to be utterly berserk just to keep apace with the surrounding madness.

COMMENTS: Word was that tickets had sold out within an hour of being made available. I heard it was a fulfillment of “a seven-year-long promise”. And the special press-only screening was fuller than many general screenings I’d attended at the Salle J.A. De Sève. Even after some hours of contemplation, I’m still processing what it was I saw. Obviously, I saw Mandy—but I imagine you get my meaning. The notes I took were more of a mess than is usual even for me, and halfway through, I stopped bothering. With Mandy, Panos Cosmatos has done nothing less than rip a crimson nightmare from the quintessence of vengeance and pour its spectacle into your eyes and ears.

The establishing shot, in which we learn about Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack in “the Shadow Mountains”, sets the grainy-dreamy visual tone. His wife, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), is a bookish death metal nerd. They have a pleasant life together of quiet love until Mandy catches the eye of some cultists who are passing through. Their leader, a failed folk singer Jesus-wannabe named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), commands his minions to kidnap Mandy and make her his lover. A demonic biker gang is summoned to nab the girl. When the drugged Mandy ridicules Jeremiah’s advances, the cult leader exacts his petty revenge, setting Red on the path to vengeance against those who have wronged him. All of those who have wronged him.

It may have been the high volume, the sound mix, or my own increased awareness, but this was yet another movie where the score stood out. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s unsettling doom metal compositions complement the unnerving, red-soaked darkness. Cosmatos’ febrile images on the screen become audible with the music—which, in a film with this little dialogue, is key. A fellow reviewer was somewhat dismissive of Mandy‘s visuals, quipping “You’re really into “Twin Peaks“— I get it.” While there is a grain of truth in that, it does not do justice to what Cosmatos is up to. Mandy is unrelenting in its stylized nightmare, rarely giving the audience a breather in its first half, and virtually never in the second. Like the score, one would best describe the film’s tonal flavor as “Doom Lynchian”: as if Cosmatos caught the football thrown by Black-Lodge-Lynch and ran another sixty yards.

And finally there’s the star himself, Nicolas Cage. Mandy seems tailor-made for him as an actor, aware both of his range and his history. When he’s trying, few can compete with Cage for sheer mania. His performance is feral at times, but the intensity fits with its surroundings. Nothing other than a force of nature could hope to survive the infernal journey that takes place in Mandy. I’d go so far as to say no other actor could be relied on to make Red seem both reasonable and completely unhinged at the same time. Whether he’s armed with a box-cutter, a dueling chainsaw, or the sickest-looking axe this side of a bad dream, Nicolas Cage bloodily carries us through Cosmatos’ Bosch-Dante deathscape.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…by no means a perfect film and is likely going to turn off a fair number of viewers who aren’t on board for its concentrated, unadulterated weirdness. But for those who are willing to take the ride, you’re in for a bizarre, bloody treat featuring a particularly extra Nic Cage, giving his best performance in years… Mandy is destined to become one of the quintessential cult movies, and a sort of arcane codeword amongst devotees of weird and wild films.”–Dan Casey, Nerdist (Sundance screening)